I opened the door to the restaurant and was stopped by a huge sign that said, “Please wait to be seated”. Next to sign was some sort of registration desk that looked like a podium for keynote speakers. Attached to the podium was a reading light where you would usually expect a microphone. Behind the podium was a young woman dressed in black. She was staring at a seating chart before she realized that I had come in. As soon as she saw me, she smiled and asked, “For how many?” “Just for me,” I replied. This was the first time I entered a restaurant in Canada.
A few seconds later another woman dressed in black came. She took a menu from inside the registration desk and told me to follow her to my assigned table. I almost wanted to order a drink when she said, “Sally will be taking care of you tonight. She will be with you in a few moments.” I was surprised that I was going to be on a first name basis with my server, not only because I was used to Miss or Mister, but also because you wouldn’t know your server’s name in Austria, unless you are a regular guest or know the owners.
After meeting someone who assigned me to a table and someone else who brought me to my table, I met my server, Sally. I thought now would be the time to order my drink, but right after her self-introduction Sally continued, “I would like to tell you about tonight’s specials. There is…” Then I zoned out. I guess, I was overwhelmed by the situation, since I was used to walk into a restaurant and just sit down. In Austria, you usually pick your own table when you go to a restaurant. There are only a few exceptions. If you choose a really fancy place, you might find a registration desk as well, and if every table is reserved or occupied, a server might catch you already at the entrance to ask you if you want to wait at the bar until a table is available.
I opted for Tagliatelle in a sophisticated mushroom sauce and chicken on top. It looked delicious. Before I could even try it, Sally came back with the biggest pepper mill I had ever seen. “Would you like some fresh pepper?” she asked, holding the pepper mill over my steaming dish. As I found out later, the gigantic pepper mill is quite common. Servers presented it at almost every restaurant I have been so far in Toronto. Sometimes pepper from the gigantic mill is even offered in pubs. Another thing that I observe regularly is that the servers seem to wait until you have your mouth full when they ask, “Is everything to your liking?”
Once I was done, Sally took my plate and asked if I wanted some dessert or coffee. I said I was too full to have anything else, and two minutes later the check was on my table. I was confused. Where I come from, the server is only supposed to bring the check when the guests ask for it. Austrians tend to stay for a while at restaurants, it can be for hours, and sometimes they even order another bottle of wine after the actual dinner. It seems like it is more about the social gathering than the meal itself. A similar behaviour can be found in the Viennese coffee culture, which I already talked about in my blog post Viennese meets Canadian coffee culture.
When I looked at the check, I discovered that there was not only a “Thank you” note but also a happy smiley face hidden under a mint candy. It took me a while to realize that this might have something to do with the tip I was about to add. The tipping culture in Canada is very different from the tipping culture I was used to, or to be more specific, the amount is very different. In Austria, tip is already included in the price you see on the menu. You would still tip for good service, but it’s more of a rounding up. If something is two Euro and 80 Cents, I usually tell the server to make it three Euro.
I took the mint candy and handed Sally my credit card. The nice thing was that I just had to type in the percentage I wanted to add as a tip. I hadn’t seen this before. From the tourist guide I read on the flight to Toronto, I knew I had to type in 15 percent or more. Sally gave me the receipt and I left with a smile on my face thinking I just added another story to my Canadian experience.